A Political History of the Future: Years and Years at Lawyers, Guns & Money

My series A Political History of the Future is back at Lawyers, Guns & Money, with a discussion of Russell T. Davies's miniseries Years and Years.  The series, which aired on the BBC in the spring and on HBO earlier this summer, follows the life of a single British family over the next decade, during which they cope with climate change, economic collapse, the growing insularity of Western nations, and the increasing appeal of substanceless fascism at the ballot box.
For all that its characters may feel helpless to change the course of history, Years and Years is a story about how people—again, mostly comfortable people like the Lyonses—let history happen, and even chivvy it along a course they know is no good because doing so makes them feel powerful or good about themselves. We know Daniel and his husband Ralph (Dino Fetscher) are in trouble when the latter starts entertaining conspiracy theories, including flat-earthism. When Daniel protests that he and Ralph have flown to India, Ralph simply replies "I'm just keeping an open mind". But it's clear from the way he says it that what he's actually doing is choosing not to think. Later in the series, Stephen interviews for a job with someone from his old life as a financial advisor, now a shady government contractor, and realizes that a condition of getting the job is that he agree that the nuclear attack that happened at the end of episode 1—an attack in which Edith, who rushed to the site to retrieve video proof of the event, sustained a lifespan-reducing dose of radiation—never happened. Denying reality becomes a tool of power, and a way for citizens to buy into that power, to preserve their comfort and sense of security in the face of an increasingly hostile world.
A lot of the discussions I've seen of Years and Years have stressed its low-key horror, the way it piles just-around-the-corner calamities on its characters.  But to me the crux of the show is less in the awfulness of the future it predicts, and more in the way that it insists that the people enduring that awfulness still have the ability--and the responsibility--to stand against it.  Neither nihilistic nor starry-eyed, the miniseries instead insists that the future of the world lies with ordinary people--if we can just get off our asses and do something.  The result is one of the most exhilarating, and essential, pieces of genre storytelling I've seen this year.


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